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The Last Month in Astronomy


MAR-03-2013 • Dragon Succeeds • The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft successfully docked at the International Space Station (ISS). This was the second resupply mission for SpaceX. The rendezvous was delayed because of blocked valves on the Dragon. But the valves were purged and the spacecraft regained its full capabilities. In its impaired state NASA would not have allowed docking to proceed. The Dragon carried 1268 pounds of supplies and will return with twice that much stuff. Some new investigations on the ISS include seeing how microgravity affects E.coli growth, studying how space affects small batteries, and trying to produce aluminum sulfate crystals that are higher purity than any created on Earth.

MAR-01-2013 • New Van Allen Belt • One of the first things science discovered while using an artificial satellite was the presence of the Van Allen radiation belts. Now a new satellite has found evidence for a new Van Allen belt. This new belt extends outward from the Earth and may come and go depending on solar flare activity.

FEB-27-2013 • BH Spin Rate • A pair of space-based observatories, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA’s XMM-Newton have collaborated to definitely determine the spin rate of a massive black hole. The black hole is at the center of the galaxy NGC1365 and it is as massive as two million suns. The speed of the rotation is about 84% of the speed of light.

FEB-21-2013 • Juicy Mission Planned • The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing a mission to Jupiter for 2022. The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) will include science packages provided by NASA and JPL. One such package is a radar to used studying the 3 Galilean moons that are icy: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. The radar will penetrate to a depth of 5 miles. The JUICE spacecraft will orbit Jupiter for three years including many flybys of Callisto and Europa and then go into orbit around Ganymede. The spacecraft will not arrive at Jupiter until 2030.

FEB-20-2013 • Smallest Planet Found • Kepler has done it again. The NASA mission has set another record, this time for the smallest exoplanet. Kepler-37b is smaller than Mercury. The star is slightly smaller and cooler than the Sun and it has at least two other planets: Venus-sized Kepler-37c and a doubled Earth designated as Kepler-37d. All 3 planets orbit the sun in orbits smaller than Mercury’s which means they are not likely to be habitable. Do not expect a rash of exoplanets of this size. This star is unusual in that it is very bright but very quiet – making it ideal for transit detections.

FEB-15-2013 • Russian Meteor • Everyone knew that asteroid 2012 DA14 would pass near the Earth. But it was a surprise that on the same day a meteor would buzz the area around Chelyabinsk in Russia. The meteor is not related to the asteroid. Hundreds were injured and thousands of windows were broken by the blast of air that was created. Some of the most interesting video came from dash cams, cameras attached to the dashboards of cars. Such cameras are apparently common as a defense against car accident scams.


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